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Rotterdam names its names


Street names have become a big topic in the past few years, with many cities facing complaints over streets named for people involved in the slave trade or in colonial-era repression. In many cases the connections have been surprises.

Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, is about to put an end to the surprises, not by focusing on 'good' or 'bad' names, but by making it possible for visitors and locals alike to know the origin of all the names—and the city has a lot: there are 6,402 roads in the city, many going only short distances.

The first step, carried out over the past year, has been to categorize all the names as to whether they are associated with a person, a location, a historic event, a trade that was once practiced there, or other category. That work is nearly done, and starting next year, street signs will have a QR code linking to the database, which will continue to be updated and expanded.

Rotterdam is also considering whether, as Amsterdam did earlier this year, the city will issue a formal apology for its role in slavery; one in eight Rotterdammers are able to trace their ancestry to someone who had been enslaved. Five new streets were added in Rotterdam last year, all named for people who had struggled against slavery and colonial rule.

Image: Witte de Withstraat in Rotterdam. Marcel Douwe Dekker/Wikimedia

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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